A great song and great production equals success, right?
So you’ve got a killer track which sounds great in every way – melody, chord progression, lyrics, vocals, instrumentation and mix – you name it, you’ve got it. Therefore, it should be a cinch to submit it to an influential curator through a service such as SubmitHub and get it added onto a widely followed Spotify playlist, right?
Well yeah, you know the answer – easier said than done! For example, on SubmitHub, the most influential curators (i.e., the ones who administer Spotify playlists with up to thousands of followers) can have average song submission approval rates as low as 0.5%.
Now, are these people just too dense to recognize your obvious musical genius? Perhaps, but I have my own allegorical way of explaining this phenomenon.
Steak, music and the concept of negative marginal utility
Assuming you’re not a vegetarian, let’s suppose you were offered a nice and juicy beautifully prepared steak. In fact, you haven’t had steak in quite a while so the one you’re being offered will taste heavenly, won’t it?
Suppose you were offered the same steak the following day – it still tastes great!
Now suppose you were offered steak the day after that – it tastes great, but not as good as the first time.
Suppose you were offered steak every day: aside from increasing your risk of getting heart disease, the visceral pleasure you have eating steak will slowly but steadily diminish over time, to the point where you’ll get sick of eating one steak after another. At best, you’ll take a nibble out of your steak before discarding it. At worst, you won’t even bother touching it at all.
And that’s how it is with the music curators who run these influential Spotify playlists: for the most part, they started off as very enthusiastic music fans who wanted to find the best indie music out there and present it to the world via Spotify (and if they’re also social media influencers, via TikTok or Instagram).
However, listening to song after song day-in and day-out (often as unpaid hobbyists) will inevitably jade and mentally numb even the most ardent music enthusiast. Continuing the steak allegory above, at best, they’ll take a nibble of your track by listening to it for maybe 30 seconds before discarding it. At worst, they might not even bother listening to your “sonic steak” at all and will delete it as soon as they’ve received it in their e-mail inbox.
In economics, this behavioural phenomenon is called “marginal utility“, defined as:
…the added satisfaction that a consumer gets from having one more unit of a good or service. The concept of marginal utility is used by economists to determine how much of an item consumers are willing to purchase.
Positive marginal utility occurs when the consumption of an additional item increases the total utility. On the other hand, negative marginal utility occurs when the consumption of one more unit decreases the overall utility.
Are you familiar with the proverb: “You can have too much of a good thing“? That’s exactly what negative marginal utility describes, and it applies to music curators as well as steak lovers.
It’s not you, it’s them
In other words, it’s not necessarily your song that’s bad, but the curator’s state of mind, for the reasons I described above.
For example, had your song been the first tune your target curator had heard when he started off his Spotify playlist, he could very well have loved it and enthusiastically added it onto his playlist. But now he’s four years into administering his playlist and has heard thousands of song submissions; his emotional response to music has been numbed by all the tunes he’s heard and your beautiful masterpiece doesn’t sound so special to him now.
Getting your music heard – alternatives to Spotify
Most of the advice you’ll find online usually involves getting your songs onto Spotify playlists, but in my opinion, this is the path of most resistance because so many other indie musicians are doing the same thing.
Hence, you’ll be one of the many indie artists submitting songs to playlist curators inundated with hundreds if not thousands of submissions per year. In light of this, here are some less trodden paths you can take to get your music heard by the public.
Play live shows
I’ve always maintained that the best way to grow a following is to perform live and win over audiences so that they’ll become fans and follow your music on Spotify or other music platforms.
As I’m writing this article, the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging and live performance venues have been shut down all over the world. With that being said, online live shows have become increasingly popular and easy to implement through various social media platforms such as Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.
Now, if you’re unable to perform live – i.e., you can’t actually sing without the assist of autotune and you don’t even know how to properly play a musical instrument, then this won’t be a solution for you. For the less inherently musically talented (and more inherently talented), you have to look to other (or additional) alternatives, which I offer below.
Submit your songs to radio stations
And when I speak of “radio stations”, I’m not referring to commercial radio where payola still runs rampant in many markets (at least in the U.S.). What I’m referring to are:
Online indie radio stations
There are many smaller online radio stations that cater to the indie scene, many of which can be found on Twitter, which in my experience, is probably one of the best networking resources you can have as an indie musician. Many of these online radio stations can only be found on social media via Twitter and will accept song submissions via Twitter. Many stations don’t even have Instagram or Facebook accounts. So if you don’t have a Twitter account, I’d advise you to set one up and start networking.
National public radio
National broadcasters such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Canada and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom will take music submissions from indie artists. For example, in Canada you can can submit your songs to CBC Radio which on their webpage, states that:
If you are a musician and wish to submit original songs for airplay on CBC networks, send them to the CBC Music Library by email to email@example.com.
You may also indicate the specific program for preferred play in the subject line of your email as follows: “Attention: [program name]”
Please attach with your email the following:
Digital file (WAV format preferred) or downloadable links
Album art and liner notes that list artist, composer and production credits
Artist biography and/or media kit with contact information
Once the Library receives your submission, it will be reviewed for possible future programming on all relevant programs/platforms. Your submission will also be made available to all CBC Music producers.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the BBC has a radio program called “BBC Introducing” where you can submit your songs to the local BBC station that coincides with your UK postal code. However, getting your song heard could be more of a challenge if you reside in a larger market such as London where so many indie musicians reside and you’d have to submit to BBC London.
In Canada, you can submit your songs to SiriusXM Canada so long as your music is of Canadian content. You can submit your tune here.
Final thoughts and conclusion
As a musician and songwriter myself, I understand how tough it could feel to have something you believed in and worked on so hard to be rejected – sometimes flippantly and harshly – by a music curator you had pinned your hopes on.
There are so many talented musicians out there with great songs who can never seem to catch a break. I’ve gotten to know many of them from around the world through social media during the Covid lockdowns. Many of them have become friends of mine and confided in me that despite their great talents, they’ve struggled to believe in themselves after experiencing one rejection after another. My hope is that they’ll be able to read this article, learn from it and renew their efforts with enthusiasm and vigor.